Brian Ó hOisín: ‘Tech conferences are back in business’

Brian Ó hOisín is a past master at curating compelling events. Currently part of the team masterminding the Dublin Tech Summit for 2024, he talks about trends in tech and events.

Boasting more than 8,000 attendees and 200 international speakers, the Dublin Tech Summit 2024 next week (29 and 30 May) at the RDS in Dublin is taking place at an interesting time in tech.

Tech as we once knew it – think web, cloud and smartphones – is being eclipsed by a new era defined by advances in artificial intelligence and quantum computing. Even our imaginations can barely keep up.

“If there’s one thing we want the Dublin Tech Summit to say loud and clear, Ireland is where it is at when it comes to emerging tech. That’s where we need to position ourselves as a country and our tech event will give voice to that”

As head of Innovation at Catalyst Media and the Dublin Tech Summit, Brian Ó hOisín has been curating and executing impactful tech events since 2010.

“For me it was about making sure all the content and the people were in the right place,” he recalls as I bring up his CareerZoo days. “It blossomed into events with 10,000 people twice a year. In the years leading up to Covid, we brought it on a national tour; going to places like Sligo, Waterford, Galway, Athlone and Limerick. We commandeered what I called the ‘tech train’ and we got all of these techies onto a train and brought them to the tech employers. We did that for a few years and it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had. Getting to know those ecosystems and the people running them was great.”

The life of Brian

Fast forward through the pandemic and smack bang into a hybrid working world characterised by video meetings and fewer reasons to travel, Ó hOisín laughs at my assertion that “tech conferences are back, baby! “The conferences are back,” he agrees, pointing out that the need to connect and network are still a major draw. “But the meet-ups, not so much.” He has a point, if many workers are working from home and only come to the office a few days a week then the allure of meetups – a place where you could brush up on code and slurp a beer on the way home – could be challenging.

That said he has spearheaded the AI Tribes one-day mini-summit gathering that took place in February at the reopened Science Gallery in Dublin and prior to that the Tech Nomads event which took place in an old warehouse near Stoneybatter.

“With AI Tribes, as you know the whole GenAI thing has started to explode and it’s all anyone can talk about and I thought wouldn’t it be really interesting to get all of these GenAI experts in the same room.

“For me I always saw the value in getting a community together. AI is being framed as a race among the big companies but it is also about the smaller, scrappier companies too.”

The success of AI Tribes gave Ó hOisín the encouragement to get cracking on preparing for the Dublin Tech Summit next week which will feature senior people from NASA, Google, Amazon, IKEA, UNICEF and Oculus. The event brings together global leaders and decision makers in AI, R&D and emerging technologies. Prior to this a roadshow took in collaborations with tech hubs around Ireland including Portershed in Galway, Republic of Work in Cork and Ormeau Baths in Belfast.

Ireland at the crossroads of AI and quantum revolutions

The Dublin Tech Summit no doubt attempts to fill the void that was left by the departure of the Web Summit to Lisbon in 2016. For Ó hOisín, it’s a no-brainer that Ireland needs a tech conference of scale.

“The event was running prior to the pandemic and I came on board two years ago and thought ‘this is a great event, there’s so much potential here and so much that can be done.’ The ecosystem is here, all of the principal players in the AI revolution are here at scale – from Google to Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook. It’s also a pivotal time when you think of what’s going on in tech. So this year we’ve changed things up and there’s a stage for 1,000 people on AI and emerging tech, which will be our second biggest stage.

“We have panels on quantum computing and CEOs are now talking about creating quantum foundries. So, tech events are definitely back, no question. Meetups not so much, but if you create events of scale where people who are time poor feel they will get something valuable out of it, then it makes sense.

“At Dublin Tech Summit, we want to use the two days to really put a shape on the questions of our time when it comes to things like AI, such as governance but also highlighting and showcasing the breakthrough companies who are laying it down.

“The beauty of events like this is that they will help people to figure out what is really going on. There’s a great focus on workshops and our speakers are second to none. We have Jack McCauley, co-founder of Oculus VR, who will be talking about neural networks for example.”

Ó hOisín feels that while GenAI adoption is happening at pace, many business owners are frustrated because it isn’t the solution for every company.

“In Ireland right now, AI is definitely the big trend but let’s also keep an eye on quantum. We have quite a few panels on that. There are some amazing Irish people doing amazing things with AI and quantum. We’ll also have 10 space tech speakers, two of whom are for NASA.

“If there’s one thing we want the Dublin Tech Summit to say loud and clear, Ireland is where it is at when it comes to emerging tech. That’s where we need to position ourselves as a country and our tech event will give voice to that,” said Ó hOisín.

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John Kennedy
Award-winning editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.